Bilingual policy not practiced

“Poor implementation of the bilingual policy has affected student literacy and numeracy in English. The current bilingual policy that prioritizes Samoan as the language of instruction in primary levels also calls for the integration of English instruction as students’ progress through school.” 

This is one of the many problems pointed out in the Pacific Benchmarking for Education Results (PaBER) report which was published last year.

PaBER which was released last year has indicated a number of challenges and ways in which this may hinder literacy and numeracy outcomes. 

“Firstly, the teaching standards and competencies expected of teachers are clearly articulated with respect to pedagogy but do not address the language competencies of teachers. 

“Teachers have in fact indicated that they prefer to work with the Samoan version of materials, and also indicated that language and terminology in the English curriculum resources is too challenging to teach. As a result it is highly likely that while a bilingual policy is in place, the majority of teaching and learning goes on in Samoan. 

“This is evident in the relatively weak performance of Y6 in the PILNA (Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy Assessment) literacy assessment, which is undertaken in English.” 

Furthermore, the report points out that school leaders are not consistently monitoring the implementation of the bilingual policy in classroom teaching, and there is no systematic data collected on the use of language in the classroom. 

Also the professional development programmes do not address the English competency of teachers. 

The report points out that student assessment at national and regional levels is administered in English and this situation is almost certainly having an impact on measured literacy and numeracy outcomes. 

“At the classroom level, where teachers are using assessment, it is likely to be a combination of Samoan and English. If the language of the resource is too challenging for teachers to engage with in constructing assessment, those assessments are likely to be less effective or will be done in Samoan preventing students from demonstrating their knowledge in English.”  

Samoa has a relatively well-established, enabling environment for the recruitment and preparation of teachers, there is an inconsistent and unplanned provision of professional development and school level support which undermines the quality of teaching and learning.

The professional development is currently at two levels the system-based where MESC organise and facilitate targeted professional development for teachers and principals nationwide and; a school-based professional development programme in which the principal takes more autonomy in determining the content and frequency of sessions. 

“Schools conduct ongoing professional development sessions, however, research showed that these sessions are usually unplanned, not well organised and ad hoc. There are no clear guidelines for schools to follow when it comes to planning, developing and implementing a more inclusive school- wide professional development programme that promotes high-quality teaching and leadership in supporting students’ achievement, well-being and engagement.” 

The PaBER research on school governance indicated that principals lack the skills to plan, develop, implement, monitor and evaluate school-based professional development. 

“Content of professional development sessions are designed and organized around the principal’s subject area of expertise and competence and are usually not properly monitored and attendance is not compulsory.” 

The limitations identified illustrate how teacher professional development could be acting as a key bottleneck to improving learning outcomes. 

This is impacting on teachers’ understanding of and ability to deliver the curriculum; the use of assessment results to improve teaching, and is linked to school management capacity. 

Any solutions will need to address these links, and ensure overall coherence and guidance nationally, with associated resources, strong school based capacity to deliver, and appropriate systems to monitor.”  

According to an experienced teacher who spoke to Samoa Observer on the condition of anonymity, in many schools in Samoa – government and some mission schools, it is common to find teaching of all subjects done in the Samoan language simply because the teacher is less fluent in English. 

“This is not limited to pre-schools and the first three years of primary school; it is quite common right through to tertiary level,” he said.

“This means that for those students whose parents do not speak English at home, their knowledge, learning and usage of English is extremely limited and poor and is often dependent on poor modeling from television programmes.

“There are instances in schools where even the teaching of the subject - English, is done using the Samoan language,” he said.

More from the PaBER report in later editions.

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